— In 2010, the Hoosier Auto Racing Fans (HARF) presented me with the organization’s Media Member of the Year award. Earning that award made the previous 14 years of countless miles and stories well worth it. Since I began writing for the Kokomo Tribune in 1984 covering stick-and-ball sports before gravitating to the racing scene, it was by far the proudest moment of my journalism career.
For as proud as I was that cold January day two years ago, I was even more proud of a person I admire and love like a brother, Rex Staton, when he recently earned HARF’s Emma and Joie Ray Award for Courage at the 60th annual HARF Recognition Banquet.
If there has ever been one as deserving of that honor it was Staton.
If not for his long-time friend Brent Goodnight finding him, pretty much unable to get to his feet in his home after his appendix burst, spreading infection through most of his body, Staton could well have lost his life.
“The doctors told me they don’t think I would have made it,” said Staton. “They really don’t know exactly what would have happened, but in all likelihood they made it pretty clear that Brent finding me and getting me help saved my life.”
What followed was month after month of healing. All the while, as he lay in a hospital bed, the sport he loves so dearly went on. Virtually all of non-wing sprint car racing’s biggest names trudged on, but Staton’s health was on their minds as hundreds would check Internet message boards to see the status of his recovery each day as the Goodnight family posted daily updates.
All told, he spent nearly three months, first at St. Joe/St. Vincent Hospital, then rehabilitation at Windsor Estates fighting off the infection that was ravaging his body. While he was on the mend, Goodnight and his wife, Asha, as well as Mike Harrington kept a constant vigil, keeping him updated on the goings on in the racing community.
“I will tell you, it was very hard. I couldn’t wait to get better just to get out to the track. Of all the times to get as sick as I did, it had to come right in the middle of the racing season,” he said with a chuckle.
The 1977 Haworth High School graduate began his involvement in the sport that would eventually consume him as a kid when he started following former stock car standout Jon Casbon as a kid.
“He lived just a couple houses down from where I grew up,” Staton explained. “I remember when he would fire up his race car, I was just drawn down to his house. Then I started going each week and never really stopped.”
Along the way he served as a tech inspector at the Miami County Speedway, he then began his career as a photographer in the early 1990’s. He also worked for the Evans family during their tenure at the track. His journeys typically find him at Gas City each Friday night and Kokomo each Sunday. Saturday’s he may slip over to the Eldora Speedway or even the famed Knoxville Raceway. He just loves to be at the track.
He admitted that he was stunned when he heard his name announced as the winner of the Award for Courage at the HARF banquet. Those who knew he had won kept it quiet around him, never so much as giving him a hint.
“I used to go to the [HARF] banquet every year,” he said. “The last couple of years I couldn’t make it for one reason or another but this year I went down with Mike [Harrington] and one of the first people I saw when I got there was Kent [Evans]. I sure didn’t expect him to be there with him living out of state now and all so I figured he probably wanted to come back just to visit with [Mike] Miles [owner of Bloomington Speedway] and Jiggs [Thomason of Gas City].
“When they announced my name,” he continued. “I can’t begin to tell you what went through my mind. I know I’ve been through a lot, not just this year but for a lot of years, but it was very emotional for me. Everyone there gave me a standing ovation and I was pretty well overcome.”
He went on to comment about all those who sent him cards, visited him while he was recovering and pretty much helped him get through a crisis a lot of folks quite simply wouldn’t have made it through.
“I’ve learned through all of this that I have so many great people that care about me,” he said. “Racing folks are good people and it’s like one big family. So many folks have chipped in to help me out with money while I get things sorted out and taking care of my house. I’m getting things back in order now and I can’t wait to be able to get back out each week like I’ve done every year except for last.”
Well Rex, all of us are glad that you are back. Witnessing a race at Kokomo without seeing you shooting a picture of one of our heroes bending their race car around a corner just didn’t seem the same.
We’re all so thankful to God that you are better my friend.
Hines second in victories in 2012
Although the new season is but a few weeks old, this year, along with the help of Todd Buffenbarger of TJSlideways website (www.tjslideways.com), I am going to attempt to keep readers abreast of the top feature winners nationwide at least once a month.
• Brett Bowman is the Tribune’s lead auto racing columnist. He may be reached by email at email@example.com or through the sports department.